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Stem cell trial offers hope to patients with spinal injuries

Paraplegic patients who are unable to walk as a result of spinal injuries are to take part in a clinical trial to test the use of embryonic stem cells as a treatment.

Ten patients will receive a single injection of therapeutic cells in their spinal cords. The ‘progenitor’ cells were grown in the laboratory from stem cells taken from human embryos.

The pilot study will take place in the US, after the country’s Food and Drug Administration gave its approval.

It will see patients at several centres with GRNOPC1, a product containing embryonic stem cell-derived progenitor cells that have already been shown to repair nerves in animals with spinal damage.

It is hoped they will mature on their own once they have been injected into the patients' spinal cords and begin to generate myelin, the essential ‘insulation’ that wraps around nerve fibres. They are also expected to release chemicals that stimulate nerve growth.

Dr Thomas Okarma, president and chief executive of Geron, which holds the patent for GRNOPC1, said: ‘This marks the beginning of what is potentially a new chapter in medical therapeutics - one that reaches beyond pills to a new level of healing: the restoration of organ and tissue function achieved by the injection of healthy replacement cells.’

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